Readers of the Gilgamesh epic are often struck by its similarity to the Bible story. There is a man created from earth who loses paradise, who accepts food from a woman, who is clothed after nakedness, a massive flood, a perfidious snake and much more. Gilgamesh tells of a quest for immortality, and in that quest we see an important distinction.
In the Bible, Adam and Eve do not lose the Garden of Eden because they seek eternal life, but rather because they seek knowledge. It is the hunger to understand that encourages them to reach toward the Divine. There were two trees in Eden, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge. The Torah teaches that humanity reached first for the tree of knowledge.
The desire to know stretches our influence beyond earthly limitations. What we pass on to others outlives us. Legacy is a truer test of immortality than the accumulation of years. Everyone benefits from those who devoted themselves to the tree of knowledge. Their existence is ensured by the thread of knowing winding through this life even after they are gone. Don’t only live and learn — also learn, and live.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book, “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press), has recently been published.